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Cody Rhodes sets course for All Elite Wrestling’s second year

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Cody Rhodes, youngest son of the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, has emerged as one of the most influential figures in the wrestling industry over the past year.

As a vice president and brainchild of All Elite Wrestling, he has helped create arguably the second most successful wrestling promotion in the country, one that has reached a new generation of fans and has given fans an alternative wrestling experience to WWE.

In a look ahead to the future, the 35-year-old Rhodes made a number of interesting points in a recent interview with the Asbury Park (N.J.) Press.

With one year in the books for the fledgling company, a year that has seen the popular promotion regularly beat NXT in the weekly ratings and shine in the all-important 18-34 demographic, Rhodes concedes he might have done too much talking as an AEW executive. Admitting he was his own worst enemy, Rhodes has vowed to change his approach in the company’s second year.

“I wanted to really promote the brand, I wanted to pound the pavement, but in speaking I kind of confined our product, I tried to give an identity to a product (when the) identity is evolving, its identity is growing,” said Rhodes. “AEW is going to have a different identity in year one than it has in year two, and we want that identity and that flavor profile to improve. But to say it’s one thing would be incorrect because wrestling is something that there’s no one specific way to do it right. There’s many different ways to do it right.

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Cody Rhodes says he has future political aspirations in Georgia. Provided photo

“So I spoke too much as an executive in my efforts to promote the brand and a lot of this kind of click-bait journalism (followed) in areas where what I said was taken out of context and might have rubbed people the wrong way or might have created more tension between an NXT fan and an AEW fan. A little less talk from me, a little more action, is one of my goals.”

Although the company faced the considerable task of dealing with a pandemic during its inaugural year, Rhodes and his team made the best of a bad situation by initially offering shows on closed sets with only roster members in attendance, and later with limited crowds in an open-air amphitheater.

“These are the cards everybody was dealt,” said Rhodes. “I’m just so glad the audience maintained. ... I’m so glad we were able to offer live entertainment throughout and not have to switch to evergreen content. That was something we were dreading and couldn’t fathom. You’ve gotta give people that escape and that’s where entertainment and the arts are such a great service.”

Background noise

Rhodes also addressed criticism that AEW has relied too heavily on its use of former WWE performers, a valid issue that other promotions have faced over the years.

All major male titles and top positions were given to former WWE talent.

Jon Moxley, formerly known as Dean Ambrose, is the current AEW world champion. Rhodes and Brodie Lee (known in WWE as Luke Harper) both have held the TNT championship.

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Cody Rhodes’ AEW has routinely beat WWE NXT in the head-to-head ratings on Wednesday night. Provided photo

“You don’t put someone in a box based on the beginning of their career, that’s the point of pro sports and the arts,” Rhodes said in the interview. “You can completely combine them in this regard: If this is your life’s work, you work on it every day. And the individual that was Luke Harper (in WWE), Mr. Brodie Lee, that individual has grown as a wrestler. He’s better bell to bell, he’s considerably better on the mic. He’s learned more — experience, experience, experience. … It’s weird, in wrestling people like to keep you confined to where you were and I don’t believe in that. I simply believe in growing.”

Rhodes, in an interview with TV Insider, commented on the feedback of AEW fans and the “background noise” on social media.

“For me, I know that early on I put out a nice post that I wanted everyone’s feedback. I wanted to hear what they liked, what they didn’t, what worked and what they thought didn’t work and why. I still very much stand by that. There absolutely is this background noise that exists on certain social platforms.

"Twitter is kind of dying out to a degree in terms of its potency. One of the mistakes I made in management early on is I talked a lot. I talked a lot in terms of the product will be this. This is how the product will be presented. I was basically trying to frame up what our goals were for the company. But when you talk so much, the show almost draws the ire of many fans.

“I’ll admit everyone in MGM Grand loved when I broke the throne. But there are people who consider that a very real shot (at WWE). They take it very seriously. When it comes to social mentions, we have a full data report after every show. If you follow them, you can clearly see where you find actual credible thoughts. It’s then you can see the hurt WWE fan that is pretty much going to say what they want to try and draw attention. A lot of times we have given them attention. We’re learning slowly and surely that Twitter is really aging out in terms of its value and what it can offer. That’s what I learned in year one. Talk less as a member of management and show more.”

Family business

Rhodes, who has been using the name “Cody” since he joined All Elite, recently announced that he has regained the use of the name “Cody Rhodes” after WWE finalized paperwork to abandon its trademark on his name.

“I no longer just have one name. Whether Justin Roberts says it, or not. It feels really good to be Cody Rhodes again!” said the wrestler born Cody Garrett Runnels.

While Rhodes added that there are “no hard feelings on either side,” he said he is unlikely to use his surname in All Elite as a way to circumvent a promise he made as a result of a stipulation from last year’s Full Gear event where he lost to Chris Jericho. The loss meant Cody could never challenge for the AEW world championship again.

“I can never challenge for the world championship again,” Cody said. “I’m not going to challenge for it under a different name. I’m not going to be the Midnight Rider. We aren’t doing any of that stuff. I gave you my word.”

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Cody Rhodes launched a competitor to WWE, All Elite Wrestling, in 2019. Provided photo

In addition to recently hinting at a possible run for the U.S. Senate in Georgia down the road, Rhodes also wants to put his acting chops to work.

Before he followed his famous father into the grappling game, an acting career was on his radar.

Rhodes said that his father, who passed away in 2015 at the age of 69, initially pushed him away from the wrestling business, preferring that his youngest son be a writer or an actor.

But his dad, whether he liked it or not, would be a major influence on Cody following in his footsteps.

“He didn’t want me at all to get involved in sports entertainment,” Cody said in a 2011 interview “It wasn’t like he was a deterrent for it, but he didn’t really want the day to come where I said I wanted to go somewhere to train. He wasn’t ready for that day when it did come.”

A two-time Georgia high school wrestling champion, Cody attended the Howard Fine Acting Studio in Los Angeles for a year.

“I retained a lot of good information from acting school, but the majority of entertainment skills I retained was things I picked up from my dad and my boss (Vince McMahon),” Rhodes said in 2011.

When the day came, Cody said, Dusty gave him his blessing.

“If you’re going to do it, then be the best.”

Cody would later joke that his dad had only himself to blame for his eventual career choice.

“It’s kind of his fault because when you bring a 4-year-old to a show and he sees these larger-than-life characters with shoulder pads and spikes, guys painting their faces, and these huge physiques and these huge reactions that they’re receiving ... what else is a kid going to want to do?”

Remembering Sputnik

Last week’s column on the late Sputnik Monroe evoked some special memories from reader Chris Schmitt.

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Sputnik Monroe helped change the culture of wrestling in the South. Provided photo

“Back in 1962 or 1963 I was attending high school in the small town of Snowflake, Arizona,” writes Schmitt. “One evening we were treated to wrestling matches at the school featuring the star wrestlers we saw on TV from down in Phoenix. Among the wrestlers that evening were Sputnik Monroe and (Jose) El Gran Lothario.

“I lived out in the country 30 to 40 minutes from the school. After the matches I screwed up and missed my ride home so went out to the highway and started to hitchhike. Just a few minutes later a large black car pulled up and asked me if I needed a ride. I said yes and jumped in the car. Much to my surprise, the occupants included Sputnik Monroe and El Gran Lothario.

“Before pulling out of town, they stopped at Dairy Queen for food, and bought me a burger and shake as well. I got to spend about 40 minutes with them before they dropped me off at the ranch where I lived before continuing their drive down to Phoenix. It was a fun experience, and they were very nice to me.”

Monroe, one of the most colorful and controversial personalities in the wrestling business, died in 2006 at the age of 78.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at bymikemooneyham@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @ByMikeMooneyham and on Facebook at Facebook.com/MikeMooneyham. His latest book — “Final Bell” — is now available at https://evepostbooks.com and on Amazon.com

Did you know …

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Kevin Nash (left) and Scott Hall made their final appearances as Diesel and Razor Ramon at the infamous 'Curtain Call' at Madison Square Garden in May 1996. Provided photo

The Madison Square Garden show for the WWF in May 1996 featured the final appearances by Scott Hall as Razor Ramon and Kevin Nash as Diesel, and was controversial because of faces and heels celebrating together in the ring after the main event, an impromptu incident that became known as the “Curtain Call.”

However, one other unusual but defining development that night flew under the radar. On the undercard, Bob Backlund suffered a rare MSG pinfall defeat to Savio Vega earlier in the evening. At that point, Vega was an ascending solo performer, in the midst of a program with Steve Austin. Meanwhile, Backlund, former two-time world champion and longtime headliner for the company, was being phased out as an active performer. The loss to Vega signaled closure in the ring legacy of the future WWE Hall of Famer.

— Kenneth Mihalik

Blast from the Past

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Ken Patera. Provided photo

Ken Patera’s entry to the world of professional wrestling in 1972 generated considerable intrigue from the sports community. As a decorated and internationally competitive weightlifter, he represented the U.S. in the Olympics. With his strongman repertoire, Patera immediately became a fan favorite starting out in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) where he tangled regularly with some of the top stars of the time, including Nick Bockwinkel, Ivan Koloff and Superstar Billy Graham.

Following this period, Patera took his popularity to the Southeast where he worked in Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas through the mid-70s. While with National Wrestling Alliance’s (NWA) Jim Crockett Promotions, he feuded with a former training partner and friend from the Midwest - Ric Flair - and with the legendary Johnny Valentine. Despite the initial orientation as a “good guy,” Patera’s size, skills and interviewing talent suited him favorably as a ring villain. The transition proved successful.

Patera entered the Northeast’s World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF) as a major challenger to the company’s championship. Billed as the “World’s Strongest Man,” he terrorized foes with a fearsome full nelson finisher. Patera was matched against Bruno Sammartino and old foe Superstar Graham. But he was more often pitted against another powerhouse, Ivan Putski, and also Chief Jay Strongbow. His title hopes derailed, Patera returned to the Mid-Atlantic region where he spent a couple of years in programs versus the likes of Tony Atlas, Dino Bravo and Jim Brunzell. He also cultivated a tag partnership with Big John Studd as the decade closed. That duo would reunite years later. Another run up North at the WWWF belt followed, this time against Bob Backlund. It was an unsuccessful bid, yet he did capture the Intercontinental title from Pat Patterson. Moreover, the busy grappler managed to work in the Midwest at that same time, holding the Missouri state championship.

Making his way back to the AWA in 1981, Patera enjoyed success teaming with Bobby Duncum and Jerry Blackwell. A highlight of this run was a singles rivalry versus the increasingly-popular Hulk Hogan. A major low point, however, derailed Patera’s professional aspirations in April 1984 when he was arrested and convicted for vandalizing a fast-food restaurant and assaulting police officers who came to investigate. The resulting prison sentence took affect after he rejoined the WWF, and Patera finally was able to resume his career after serving about 18 months. A corporate decision was made to portray him as a sympathetic figure of redemption, still very much with the heart of an Olympic hero. He was repackaged in this regard and did well until adversity struck again. A ruptured bicep tendon suffered during a televised bout was difficult to overcome. The injury posed a disadvantage for him in ring action. Eventually, he was let go in November 1988 following the Survivor Series pay-per-view. There was much talk about retirement.

However, the outspoken Patera was not through. He waged one more comeback in the AWA, and also Herb Abrams’ UWF. He and Brad Rheingans won the AWA tag belts, but a knee injury soon sidelined Rheingans, and the AWA folded. Patera briefly worked the independent scene before hanging it up for good in the early 1990s. These days, the 77-year-old shares his many experiences, often in a blunt and colorful manner, via interviews on social media.

— Kenneth Mihalik

Photo of the Week

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Tim “Mr. Wrestling” Woods (from left), Ole Anderson and Bill Murdock share a story, while Penny Banner peruses an old wrestling program at a banquet during a 1998 legends weekend in Charleston. Provided photo

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